6 Best Lenses for Wildlife Photography (2020)

The lens should never be overlooked when it comes to building your camera setup. The best lens for wildlife photography will make or break your results, because the photos you take will often be photos taken at a distance. If you’ve ever tried to take pictures of wildlife, you know just how hard it is to get close enough to get great shots. Instead, let your lens do the work for you.

Below is a rundown of the key features and specs that wildlife photographers look for in a camera lens. Be sure to find lenses that are built to fit your wildlife niche. Whether it be bird photography, whale photography, or some other form of wildlife photography, you’ll want a lens that can perform well in the outdoors while also taking stellar pictures.

We Recommend

Best value Canon

Canon 70-300mm
Telephoto Zoom

Best budget zoom

Sigma 150-600mm
Zoom Lens

Best lightweight Nikon

Nikon 70-300mm
Fixed Zoom

What are you going to photograph?

When choosing the best lens for wildlife photography, it’s important to consider what types of animals you are planning on photographing. There’s a big difference between bird photography, wildlife photography, and macro photography. Finding a lens that suits your style is essential to producing the best images in your photo niche.

Bird Photography – Taking great photos of birds is an exhilarating experience. It’s so hard to capture birds in the right moment because they’re so quick and small. It’s absolutely necessary for bird photographers to have a fast camera accompanied by a zoom lens. Bird photographers typically aim for a focal length of at least 400mm.

Wildlife Photography – Larger wildlife may not require as much zoom, but you’ll still want to have a decent focal length in order to stay safe. Since wildlife can be so unpredictable, it’s great to prioritize a telephoto zoom lens that has varying focal lengths and the best wildlife camera.

For a lighter lens, a focal length of 18-200mm would be a good option for wildlife at a reasonable distance or if you want to take pictures that incorporate wider shots. A 100-400mm lens is a good option for photographers wanting to respect the space between them and the animals they encounter.

Macro Photography – Some wildlife photographers prefer the “wildlife” that we overlook. Insects, spiders, lizards, and amphibians are great to capture on camera. Macro lenses allow photographers to record the minute details of these small creatures. If you’re into nature on a micro level, then you’ll need to opt for a macro lens.

Zoom vs. prime lens?

Wildlife photographers either use zoom lenses or prime lenses. There are pros and cons to each, so it’s important to understand the features of both.

Zoom Lens

  • A zoom lens is a lens that has a varying focal length, such as 70-300mm. This means that the lens can zoom from 70mm to 300mm.
  • The advantages of zoom lenses are numerous. Zoom lenses are very forgiving lenses. They are versatile and allow you the option to take photos close up or at a distant.
  • For most wildlife photographers, particularly enthusiasts or those who like to hike with their camera, the zoom lens is the way to go.

Prime Lens

  • Prime lenses feature a fixed focal length, so it is not possible to adjust the crop of a photo with the lens itself. The benefit of a prime lens is its wide-open aperture.
  • Prime lenses are generally better at filtering light through the lens, which helps the camera take faster and sharper photos.
  • Prime lenses suited for wildlife photography will have a high focal length, such as 600mm, making these lenses quite large. Typically, these lenses usually require a tripod to work effectively.

The wildlife lens price timeline

The price of the best lens for wildlife photography is directly correlated with its size and the quality of glass it uses. Larger lenses, particularly telephoto zoom lenses, will be more expensive. Glass quality is another thing that drives the price up.

High-grade glass such ultra-low dispersion (UD) or fluorite will produce sharper images but will come at a higher cost. Below is a breakdown of what types of lenses you can expect at different price points:

$0-500: Lenses under $500 will have a low focal length, which is most often used for portrait photography. Some will have limited zoom capabilities, but most will be small prime lenses between 18 and 100mm.

$500-1,000: Wildlife photography enthusiasts can find decent lenses in this price range. Name brand optics such as Nikon or Canon may max out at a 300mm telephoto zoom, but other brands such as Tamron and Sigma offer 600mm zoom at this price point. Great lenses for wildlife will start in this price range.

$1,000-2,000: For more serious wildlife photographers, money spent on a lens is money well spent. Lenses between $1,000-2,000 offer a great range of focal length as well as reliably clear images at high zoom. Expect to find focal lengths such as 100-400mm or 200-500mm in this price range. You can find pro level lenses for wildlife in this price range.

$2,000-5,000: More specialized cameras that feature multiple UD or fluorite elements will come in at a price above $2,000. Photographers tend to pay for aperture here, opting for lenses, even zoom lenses, that have a very low f-stop.

$5,000-Higher: Lenses over $5,000 are professional grade. These lenses will produce impeccable images, but the high price certainly comes with a more specialized form of shooting.

Lenses such as the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED Vibration Reduction Fixed Lens or the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens are both examples of high-end fixed aperture prime lenses (best for the money).

What about teleconverters?

Teleconverters are magnifying lenses that can be used to enhance the zoom of your original lens. So if you have a 70-300mm lens, you can use a 2x teleconverter to double the focal length range. To use a teleconverter, you simply place it between the camera body and the lens.

Teleconverters are a quick way to maximize zoom, but it comes with a cost. Though you’ll be able to zoom in on subjects at a much greater level, the image quality of the photos you take will not be as sharp as images that you take without the teleconverter.

Photographers who prioritize zoom over image clarity may find teleconverters a great low-cost option as compared to purchasing a whole other lens for your camera setup. If you do opt for a teleconverter, don’t skimp on a lower quality brand. The Canon EF 2X II Extender and the Nikon Auto Focus-S FX TC-20E III Teleconverter Lens are both excellent options depending on the type of camera you have.

How to choose the right lens for wildlife photography?

There are certain lens features that wildlife photographers prioritize. If you’re in the market for a new lens, here are some features that shouldn’t be overlooked:

Focal Length – A lens that can take pictures from a distance is a must. At a minimum, you’ll want a 200mm lens for wildlife photography. For close-ups at a distance and bird photography, you’ll need a lens with even more focal length, such as 400mm.

Autofocus – An autofocus that is fast and quiet is supremely beneficial to wildlife photographers. No matter the light conditions, you want your camera to be able to pick up the animals in your lens and focus on their features as they move about. Look for AF systems that include optimized image stabilization, a low f-number, and decent glass. All these components help contribute to the efficiency of the AF system.

Aperture – A wide-open aperture will help your camera perform well in low-light conditions. An aperture of f/2.5 is great, but most telephoto zoom lenses don’t offer that range. Instead, shoot for a lens with an aperture of f/5 or less.

Size – Most wildlife photographers do extensive hiking with their camera gear. Most lenses for wildlife should be easier to carry if possible. If you want a smaller, more compact telephoto zoom lens, then you may want to stick with a 300mm lens or smaller. For those who love close, sharp pictures, be prepared to haul around a large piece of glass. Not all super-zoom lenses are a pain to carry, though. Some are actually built with balance in mind. 

Best lens for wildlife photography

1. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM UD Lens

The Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L IS USM UD Lens is a great starter lens for wildlife photographers. 

This lens features a versatile zoom range that allows photographers to get close-ups of wildlife. 

It also allows photographers to zoom out to get views of the surrounding landscape. With an aperture that maxes out at f/4, this lens performs well in low-light

Its fast autofocus is also a great plus for wildlife photographers who must track animals as they move about the frame. 

The Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L IS USM UD Lens is a great lens for amateur wildlife photographers looking for a lens that can be adapted to shoot in many different settings. It’s AF and aperture allow it to produce sharp images throughout the focal length range.

Check the price of Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM UD Lens here

Best for: Beginner Wildlife Photography
Matching camera body: Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

What we liked

  • Sharp at Every Focal Length
  • Build Quality
  • Great 4-Stop Image Stabilizer
  • Smooth Focus Ring with Twist Zoom
  • Weather Sealed
  • Fast AF
  • Designed for Full-Frame, APS-C, and APS-H Cameras

What we didn’t like

  • Not Compatible with Extenders
  • No Tripod Collar
  • White Color Makes it More Conspicuous

Focal Length: 70-300mm
Aperture: f4-5.6L
Format: Full-Frame
Type: Telephoto Zoom
Autofocus: Ultrasonic Motor AF
Stabilization: 4-Stop Optical Image Stabilization
Glass: 2 Ultra-Low Dispersion (UD) Elements
Weight: 2.3 lbs
Warranty: 1-year Limited Warranty

2. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens is an impressive lens at its price point. 

The most alluring feature of this lens is its zoom. At 600mm, photographers are sure to capture some incredible close-ups of wildlife in action. 

The image stabilizer is also very reliable, which helps this lengthy lens produces sharp images even when photos are taken from a handheld position.

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens is perfect for beginner bird photographers looking to improve their photography by prioritizing a high focal length range.

The lens performs very well and produces great photos up to 400mm. When the lens is maxed out at 600mm, image sharpness is reduced, but overall the lens is a great addition for amateur wildlife photographers.

Check the price of Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens here

Best for: Beginner Bird Photography
Matching camera body: Canon EOS REBEL T7i DSLR Camera

What we liked

  • Great, Affordable Lens
  • Impressive Telephoto Reach Maxing Out at 600mm
  • Includes Tripod Collar and Lens Hood
  • Quiet and Fast AF
  • Excellent Sharpness at 400mm and lower; Good Sharpness at 600mm
  • Good Image Stabilization

What we didn’t like

  • Not Fully Weather Sealed
  • Chromatic Aberration at High Zoom
  • Heavy

Focal Length: 150-600mm
Aperture: f/5-6.3
Format: Full-Frame
Type: Hyper-Telephoto Zoom
Autofocus: Hypersonic Motor AF
Stabilization: Optical Stabilizer
Glass: 1 “F” Low Dispersion (FLD) Element and 2 Special Low Dispersion (SLD) Elements
Weight: 4.25 lbs
Warranty: 1-year North & South America Warranty, plus 3-year Extended USA Warranty

3. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L is II USM Lens

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-6.5L IS II USM Lens is a fantastic lens that can take incredible photos. 

This lens is solidly built and includes a fast and quiet AF system using an ultrasonic motor. The aperture range is quite good, considering the focal length range. 

The fluorite glass element, paired with a UD element, is also a great upgrade that improves image quality and camera speed.  

This particular lens is a popular choice among advanced wildlife photographers who want a dynamic lens that can be useful in a variety of environments. Photographers will have no problem taking great pictures of wildlife with this camera.

Check the price of Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L is II USM Lens here

Best for: Advanced Bird and Wildlife Photography
Matching camera body: Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

What we liked

  • Focal Length Allows for Flexibility while Shooting
  • Close Focus at 3.2 ft
  • Solid, Weather-Sealed Build
  • Fast and Quiet USM AF
  • Compatible with Certain Canon Extenders
  • Very Sharp Images at All Focal Lengths
  • The Foot of Tripod Mount can be Removed

What we didn’t like

  • Low-Light AF can Lag
  • Can’t remove the Entire Tripod Mount

Focal Length: 100-400mm
Aperture: f/4.5-5.6L
Format: Full-Frame
Type: Telephoto Zoom
Autofocus: Ultrasonic Motor AF
Stabilization: Optical Image Stabilizer with 4-Step Image Correction
Glass: 1 Fluorite & 1 Super Ultra-Low Dispersion (UD) Element
Weight: 3.4 lbs
Warranty: 90-day Warranty for Renewed Items

4. Nikon AF-S Nikkor DX 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Lens

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Lens is a great option for wildlife photographers looking for a compact lens

With a focal length of 18-200mm, you’ll be able to take wide-angle 18mm shots, great for landscapes, and you’ll also be able to zoom in on subjects. 

Travelers may find this lens particularly enticing due to its size and its adaptability to different photography styles. 

Though on the low end in terms of zoom, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Lens is still a serviceable wildlife camera capable of taking sharp photos at the full 200mm zoom. Wildlife photographers who like to feature animals with a full background may prefer this smaller lens.

Check the price of Nikon AF-S Nikkor DX 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Lens here

Best for: Wildlife and Landscape Photography
Matching camera body: Nikon D7500 DX-Format Digital SLR Camera

What we liked

  • Decent Range for Compact Telephoto Zoom
  • Good Travel Lens
  • Close Focus at 1.6 ft; Can Be Used as a Workable Macro Lens
  • Maximum aperture f/3.5 to Perform Well in Low Light
  • Autofocus allows M/A mode (A Great Feature for Wildlife Photography)
  • Zoom Lock
  • Vibration Reduction Keeps Images Stable

What we didn’t like

  • Lens Creep 
  • Limited Zoom at High Focal Length

Focal Length: 18-200mm
Aperture: f/3.5-5.6G
Format: DX
Type: Telephoto Zoom
Autofocus: Silent Wave Motor AF
Stabilization: Nikon VR II (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization
Glass: 2 Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Glass Elements
Weight: 1.25 lbs
Warranty: 1-year Limited Warranty

5. Nikon AF-P Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens

The Nikon AF-P Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens is a great in-between lens for wildlife photographers who want range with their focal length, but don’t want the burden of a large, heavy super-zoom telephoto lens. 

This lens has a fast AF, which allows photographers to focus on their intended targets easily. 

Its 4.5-step Vibration Reduction is also crucial to producing images unaffected by a shaky hand

Intermediate wildlife photographers may find the Nikon AF-P Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens a great option. It has a decent zoom but also allows users to back off the zoom and take wider photos to feature more of the background in their photos. 

This lens is also a fairly small and lightweight telephoto zoom, making it a great option for photographers who prefer less weight when going out to shoot wildlife.

Check the price of Nikon AF-P Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens here

Best for: Wildlife Photography
Matching camera body: Nikon D7500 DX-Format Digital SLR Camera

What we liked

  • Sharp Images
  • Dynamic Zoom Range
  • 4.5-step Vibration Reduction OS
  • Full-frame Compatibility
  • Compact, Lightweight Lens
  • Fast and Quiet AF
  • Weather Sealed

What we didn’t like

  • The AF-P is Incompatible with Older Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • Not Enough Zoom for Serious Bird Photography

Focal Length: 70-300mm
Aperture: f/4.5-5.6E
Format: Full-Frame
Type: Fixed Zoom
Autofocus: Ultra-Fast, Near Silent AF
Stabilization: VR Image Stabilization
Glass: 1 Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Glass Element
Weight: 1.5 lbs
Warranty: 1-year Limited Warranty

6. Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Lens

An impressive lens, to say the least, the Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6E ED Lens is a high-performance super-zoom telephoto lens that guarantees great shots. 

Wildlife photographers and bird photographers will be grateful for the picture clarity this lens produces at high focal lengths. 

What’s perhaps even more impressive is the fact that this lens is 5 lbs, but it doesn’t feel like an inconvenience. 

The lens body is well balanced, which is a huge plus for photographers planning on trekking around with this lens in hand.

At its price, this lens seems to be geared toward the advanced bird and wildlife photographers, but anyone would be able to identify the remarkable picture quality that the Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Lens produces.

Check the price of Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Lens here

Best for: Advanced Bird and Wildlife Photography
Matching camera body: Nikon D500 DX-Format DSLR Camera

What we liked

  • Incredibly Sharp Photos Even at High Zoom
  • Great Vibration Reduction
  • Solid Build Quality
  • Well-Balanced, Despite the Size and Weight
  • Fixed Aperture throughout Focal Range
  • Removable Tripod Collar

What we didn’t like

  • Well-Balance, but Still Heavy
  • Slower Focus in Low Light

Focal Length: 200-500mm
Aperture: f/5.6E
Format: FX
Type: Super Telephoto Zoom with Constant Aperture
Autofocus: Silent-Wave Motor AF
Stabilization: 4.5-Stop Vibration Reduction IS
Glass: 3 Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Elements
Weight: 5 lbs
Warranty: 1-year Limited Warranty

Scroll to Top